I found the following review on the Founders website last year sometime, and after reading the book, found it to be one of those milestones that have liberated me from an error in which I was raised. Thought I’d direct all of you to it . . .
Baptist Successionism: A Crucial Question in Baptist History
American Theological Library Association Monograph Series,
by James Edward McGoldrick,
Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, 1994, 181 pp. $27.50
reviewed by Terry Chrisope
For anyone who has felt the attraction of Baptist successionism (“Landmarkism” in popular terminology), James McGoldrick has provided half the antidote. In Baptist Successionism, he demonstrates that this peculiar but popular interpretation of ecclesiastical history is historically untenable. It may be said at the outset that he does so in absolutely convincing fashion.
McGoldrick acknowledges (p. 2) that he once held the successionist theory, which claims that there has been an unbroken line or succession of Baptist (or at least baptistic) churches from New Testament times down to the present era. This understanding of church history was popularized in the United States by J. R. Graves in the mid-nineteenth century and especially by J. M. Carroll’s booklet, The Trail of Blood, published in 1931. Baptist successionism, or Landmarkism, also typically incorporates a denial of any concept of the church as the universal body of Christ made up of all Christian believers, and a rejection of all other (nonbaptist) church bodies as genuine churches.
McGoldrick’s method is first to define in terms of theology and practice what it means to be Baptist, then to examine the historical groups down through the centuries that have been claimed by Baptist successionists. he gives particular attention to those sects which are mentioned as Baptist forebears in The Trail of Blood. McGoldrick is to be commended for not contenting himself with the pronouncements of later historians but instead has sought out the primary sources which describe the beliefs and practices of the groups he examines. He carefully subjects these documentary sources to critical evaluation regarding their reliability.
To cite McGoldrick’s conclusions is to call the roll of the heroes of Baptist successionism, but in each case the claims made for them by successionists are found to be unsubstantiated: the evidence shows that the Montanists and Novatians were schismatic Catholics, not Baptists; St. Patrick operated under the auspices of the bishop of Rome and did not adhere to the Baptist conception of church, sacraments or ministry; the Paulicians were not Baptists but separatists from Roman Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy, they were anti-Trinitarian, and held an adoptionist Christology; the Bogomils were an extension of a dualistic strain of Paulicianism whose theology was not even Christian, much less Baptist; there is no positive evidence that Peter de Bruys, Henry of Lausanne, or Arnold of Brescia or their followers were Baptists; the Albigenses inherited the extreme dualism of the Bogomils and “held almost nothing in common with modern Baptists” (p. 67); and the medieval Waldenses were similar to the Roman Catholic order of Franciscans, while the later Waldenses were more akin to Presbyterians and Methodists than Baptists. Although the Anabaptist of the sixteenth century might seem on superficial consideration to be genuine ancestors of the Baptists, McGoldrick demonstrates that they held different views than Baptists on the doctrines of revelation, Christology, soteriology, and ecclesiology, and that there are no real genetic links between the Anabaptists of the continent and the Baptists of England.
Whence the Baptist, then? McGoldrick argues that the main stream of Baptist life was an outgrowth of the Calvinistic Puritan movement in England, where churches of recognizably Baptist persuasion and practice (gathered church, believer’s baptism, and baptism by immersion) emerged in the 1630’s and 1640’s. he shows that these churches were one with their Presbyterian and Congregational brethren in the Calvinistic theology which they shared, even calling themselves Protestant and disavowing any connection with the Anabaptists. If this is the true origin of Baptists, then there is no possibility of a succession of Baptist churches from apostolic times. The Landmark doctrine is, in McGoldrick’s words, “a phenomenon of relatively recent origin” (p. 145), having emerged in the nineteenth century and been popularized by J. R. Graves and J. M. Pendelton.
In view of the paucity of scholarly works by competent historians arguing against Baptist successionism, McGoldrick’s book must be regarded as an important contribution. His conclusions are sound, his handling of the evidence sure, and his tone irenic but firm.
The other half of the case against Baptist successionism would be a theological argument based on careful exegesis of relevant New Testament passages–such as 1 Corinthians 12:13 and the Epistle to the Ephesians–but that would be the subject of a different book. As for this book, it is difficult to see how the historical argument could be any better presented than has been done by James McGoldrick.
So, having read the above review, who can explain to me the following overused quote of Spurgeon which appears to have him favoring the views of Baptist Successionism?
” We believe that the Baptists are the original Christians. We did not commence our existence at the reformation, we were reformers before Luther and Calvin were born; we never came from the Church of Rome, for we were never in it, but we have an unbroken line up to the apostles themselves. We have always existed from the days of Christ, and our principles, sometimes veiled and forgotten, like a river which may travel under ground for a little season, have always had honest and holy adherents. Persecuted alike by Romanists and Protestants of almost every sect, yet there has never existed a Government holding Baptist principles which persecuted others; nor, I believe, any body of Baptists ever held it to be right to put the consciences of others under the control of man. We have ever been ready to suffer, as our martyrologies will prove, but we are not ready to accept any help from the State, to prostitute the purity of the Bride of Christ to any alliance with Government, and we will never make the Church, although the Queen, the despot over the consciences of men.”
—Charles H. Spurgeon